Delta Updates MSP Ground Control Center

Delta Air Lines recently finished a multi-million dollar face lift for its aging ground control center at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.

MSP is the airline’s second largest hub with more than 30 million passengers passing through the airport each year. Most are there to fly Delta, MSP’s largest carrier that on peak days operates more than 400 departures to 120 nonstop destinations.



What all those passengers don’t get to see as they travel through the airport is the small army of people behind the scenes keeping everything on the ground running smoothly.

The staff of the airline’s ground control center oversees every aspect of Delta’s daily ground operations at MSP, coordinating communications with pilots, baggage handlers and gate agents as well as the caterers, cleaners and maintenance personnel that service the planes on the tarmac.

The airline currently employs about 12,000 people at MSP or within the state, and the location remains a key part of Delta’s operations because of the number of Fortune 500 companies and business travelers in the area, according to William P. Lentsch, the airline’s senior vice president of Minnesota flight operations.

In addition to the investment in the ground control center, Lentsch also outlined other improvements to MSP to make Delta run more efficiently.

“In conjunction with the airport staff, we’re going to be installing a very extensive camera system because we can’t have our eyes everywhere at all times on the operation,” Lentsch said in an interview published last year in the city’s Star Tribune. “We’ll have cameras strategically located throughout the airport that will be recording information for those who run our control center and those who manage our operations.”

Lentsch also credited other measures the airline started putting into place in 2011 that improved its operational performance by ensuring procedures went by the clock from boarding to pushback.

“For example, our agents on the ramp,” he added, “have they started to scan and load the bags on the airplane 35 minutes prior to departure? How often are we starting to board the airplane above-wing prior to scheduled departure? There are certain tasks that need to be accomplished at a certain time in that process. So just that awareness, and our ability to identify where we might be missing and fixing the problem has been very effective.”



The center dates back to 1988 when it was built by Northwest Airlines, which Delta acquired in 2008. The radios and computers in the original control room had long since passed their prime, and the control room consoles had been designed to hold cumbersome 1980s-style CRT monitors.

“The installation of the new equipment and consoles was our biggest concern going into this upgrade,” says Richard Benz, manager of the MSP control center department. “Every inch of the control center had to be redone without disrupting operations because the company didn’t want to incur the expense of building a temporary facility.”

Delta worked closely with integrators to design a new control room that would improve communication and increase efficiency. This included installing all new computers, monitors, intercoms and radio equipment.

A significant aspect of the control room renovation was the installation of ergonomically designed control room consoles to house the new equipment.

Several factors complicated the selection of new consoles:

  • The control room needed to remain operational throughout the renovation, so installation of the consoles had to take place in phases.
  • The new console layout needed to fit the existing control room while also adding three workstations essentially within the same footprint.
  • Further complicating the installation was the number of vendors that needed to complete different aspects of the integration.

Delta chose Winsted Corporation to provide the control room consoles because the company was able to meet these requirements and offer a feature-rich console design. Winsted, based in Minneapolis, has been providing solutions to control rooms since 1963.

The airline provided Winsted with an initial layout concept from which the console manufacturer designed a series of Winsted Sight-Line consoles to fit the existing footprint with the additional three workstations. The consoles are ergonomically designed to provide operators with a comfortable, efficient workspace that is ideal for 24/7 control room environments, such as Delta’s control center.

Operators in Delta’s control center are trained on all positions so they may work at the board confirming gates with incoming flights one day and may direct catering on the ground the next.

The constant rotation helps keep operators alert and engaged, but makes the flexibility of each workstation imperative to accommodate the ergonomic needs of individual operators.

The new control center has a total of 32 workstations, which allows enough space for all of the day-to-day operations as well as a few additional workspaces for seasonal needs, such as deicing operations.

Each workstation is equipped with several monitors (the number varies depending on the function of the workstation), PCs, radio, telephone and intercom.

“Our old consoles did not provide adequate accommodations for PCs,” Benz adds. “Now our operators have easy access to the PCs.”

The new stations also feature easy-access CPU storage in the base of the console and a dual cable raceway that keeps signal and power cords separate, organized and out of the way. Winsted also created custom shelves at each workstation to hold radio speakers for the control center’s communication system. Dividers between each workstation give operators a defined workspace and certain level of privacy to enhance concentration.

In order to make it possible for the ground control center to remain operational throughout the upgrade, the installation was completed in phases and largely overnight, between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m., which minimized disruption to operators.

In addition, equipment from several workstations was temporarily transferred to the three new workstations while work was completed in particular areas of the control center. Workstations were sort of leapfrogged around to keep operations running throughout the install.

“The installation went very smoothly, especially considering the sheer number of moving parts that had to be coordinated,” Benz adds. “Now that it’s complete, our operators are very pleased with the results.”